Thursday, September 04, 2008

Interview: Adam Ekberg

Today I would like to present an interview with Chicago based photographer, Adam Ekberg. Some of you may remember seeing some of Adam's works in a show I curated a few months back, Focus Midwest. I have been a fan of Adam's work for some time now, as it has this magical sort of calm that I find captivating. I thought it would be nice to share some images of his work and have him tell us a bit about his practice and life as an artist in Chicago. I hope you enjoy the interview. For more information on Adam and his work, please check out his web site and Thomas Robertello Gallery. I would also like to give a shout out to Thomas Robertello himself. He has been putting on some excellent shows in Chicago. I highly recommend you checking his space out next time you're up that way. Enjoy!


Could you tell us a bit about yourself? What brought you to Chicago?

I came to Chicago to get my Masters Degree at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago... I had been living in Portland Maine before that. There I was working as a nurses’ aid at a six-bed facility for people with HIV. I lived in a carriage house behind a mansion, I gutted and renovated the first floor of the house and turned it into a gallery that showed emerging contemporary artists. Now I live in a one-bedroom apartment in Logan Square with my dog who is part Irish Wolfhound. I teach art at University of Illinois and am working on photographs for a couple of shows coming up next year.

What's it like working as an artist in Chicago? Is there a desire to move somewhere cheaper or a need to move to New York City?

It took me years of living here to say this but, I love Chicago. There are a lot of things that I miss about Maine and I often return there to make images but Chicago is wonderful. There are things that are attractive to me about New York but it strikes me that a lot of people move there for the wrong reasons. I remember after school an advisor told me that I had to move to LA, New York or Berlin... to be an artist that is what you have to do. You would think that a population of people claiming to be creative would not restrict themselves by such a system.

You received your MFA in photography from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago. How did your time their influence the direction of your art? Did you have any influential instructors?

Agh, The Art Institute... I had no idea what I was in for when I enrolled there. My time there was incredibly difficult intellectually and emotionally but in the end I would not have gone anywhere else. I had a lot of very important instructors there, Gaylen Gerber and Ken Fandell among them. Hamza Walker was the most important person to me in school. I had him for a photography seminar and I liked him a lot because he was clearly brilliant but the conversations we had in that class were not what you expected- they were really weird, specific and idiosyncratic in a way that only an interesting mind can lead. I still go down to The Renaissance Society; he trades me perspective on my work for homemade tuna fish sandwiches and a can of Squirt soda, not a bad deal.

How would you describe your work?

I document performances, constructions, and lens-based phenomena. The photographs range from very simple gestures to elaborate stagings; what they have in common is an implied self-portrait while I am absent from the frame. This residual presence is established through a host of different strategies- and juxtaposes banality with the phenomenal.

Can you talk us through your process, from concept to final product?

Some pictures just want to be made; usually they reveal themselves to me. The better pictures tap into my daily life in some way. It really is a ham-fisted process because they are not about anything in the sense that some art is. I do not care for art that is about something in the “I get it sense”. I like art that burns slow and reveals things to the viewer over time.

Is there a specific message/concept/theme that you strive to convey with your collective work?

Not a specific one. I hope that collectively a lot of things are going on in my images.

In a world bombarded with images, particularly photographic images, let alone a world where most people own a camera (or cell phone camera), do you feel the role of the artist/photographer is now different than it was say ten/twenty years ago?

Most people make more pictures on a good night at the bar then I do over the course of the year... the image is disposable but it is capable of evoking ideas that are important. Gaylen Gerber said something to me in grad school that meant a lot to me; he talked about ‘lying in order to tell the truth’. My interpretation of this was that the art object is a conduit between the viewer and me and that in order to evoke an honest and sincere emotion in them I had to lie like a rug. If I want to make someone feel lonely for instance I cannot take a picture of a lost crying child that is lonely but rather some object displaced in a barren environment might come closer to evoking that feeling. So the photograph is important to me in the sense that it is my lie to make someone feel something.

How has teaching impacted your art practice?

I am teaching a class at UIC that I absolutely love. Working with students keeps me in touch with why I do this. Bad days are the ones when I have a ‘to do’ list as long as my arm and making a photograph sits on the line right below taking out the trash. Being around students reconnects me with what matters which is the exploration and curiosity around image making.

Can you tell us about some of your recent projects? What are you working on at this time?

I do not really work in projects per se.... I have made several new images this summer for a couple of shows coming up which I am really excited about. I have been going back to the woods in Illinois, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts to make things happen. I am really into things that exist in-between states, levitation, traces of myself, and strange sources of illumination.

What Midwest based artists should we be keeping an eye on? Any personal favorites?

I am lucky to be surrounded by friends who are great artists. Being around these people after grad school is probably more important then grad school itself. I love Isac Applin’s paintings; he is in a show opening this month at Roots and Culture that I am really looking forward to. I saw a new painting by Carl Baratta while visiting his house the other evening, which was really wonderful. Justin Cooper’s recent performance at Gallery 400 was great and absolutely hilarious.

Finally, how would you define personal success?

These days personal success is being with my dog, friends, working on images and riding my bike. I try to keep it simple; also I like to play chess.

A balloon in a room, 2008
Aberration #7, 2006
A disco ball on the mountaintop, 2005
A bubble on the grass, 2006
Smokering, 2007

2 Responses to “Interview: Adam Ekberg”

Carla said...
September 6, 2008 at 11:21 AM

"It really is a ham-fisted process because they are not about anything in the sense that some art is. I do not care for art that is about something in the “I get it sense”. I like art that burns slow and reveals things to the viewer over time."

I find this stance admirable, in general, but even more so when one's medium is photography. It's almost bullheaded of Adam to make and present these types of gentle slo-burn images in today's art climate. It's very encouraging.

Tristan said...
September 16, 2008 at 5:21 PM

Man, what a great article, had never heard of Adam before, will follow him now. Great stuff.

Lovely blog by the by.



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